Thursday, 7 December 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 3, Episodes 13-14

C13: A Late Delivery from Avalon
Airdates: 22 April 1996 (US), 14 July 1996 (US)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Michael Laurence Vejar
Cast: Arthur (Michael York), Emmett Farquaha (Michael Kagan), Merchant (Roger Hampton), Old Woman (Dona Hardy), MedTech (James Kiriyama-Lem), Lurker (Robert Schuch), Security Guard #1 (Michael Francis Kelly), Security Guard #2 (Jerry O’Donnell)

Date: mid-July 2260.

Plot:    The starliner Asimov comes through the jump gate, the first Earth ship to visit the station since Babylon 5 broke away from the Alliance three months ago. The ship brings the mail and also an eccentric human claiming to be King Arthur. He boards the station claiming to be needed here. Franklin thinks he’s mentally ill but Marcus ponders if the Vorlons could have frozen him in time like the inquisitor Sebastian. Franklin tests Arthur’s DNA and discovers he is really David MacIntyre, former gunnery sergeant on the EAS Prometheus. The Prometheus was the ship that led the fleet that made first contact with the Minbari. There was a miscommunication and the Prometheus’s captain, thinking the Minbari were about to fire on him, ordered MacIntyre to fire first, thus triggering the death of Dukhat and the start of the Earth-Minbari War. When Franklin confronts MacIntyre with this, he descends into some kind of catatonic state. He only snaps out of it when Delenn forgives him for his actions. Cured, he heads to Narn to help out with the resistance (after befriending G’Kar on the station).

Garibaldi has a package containing foodstuffs waiting for him but is enraged when the B5 Post Office charges him 100 CR to cover the now-extortionate export fees from Earth to the station. He tries to break into the Post Office, but decides to instead blackmail them, accepting a 101 CR bribe not to mention to Sheridan that the Post Office’s quarters and offices are no longer paid for by Earth and thus they should be paying rent.

Sheridan is getting worried about relying on the Minbari too much for defence. He brings together the ambassadors from the League of Non-aligned Worlds, many of whom are fighting each other, and offers the use of Babylon 5 as a free diplomatic centre for negotiations and mediation in return for them donating ships to defend the station. Most accept the offer and additional warships from the League worlds soon arrive to aid the Minbari in defending Babylon 5.


Dating the Episode: The episode takes place between C12 (which occurs on 3 July) and C14 (which occurs on 24 July). It is fifteen years to the day since the Earth-Minbari War began, setting the date of that conflict (and thus the events of TVM1) to July 2245.

The Arc: The war amongst the League worlds which we discover had broken out in C10 is still raging, although Sheridan’s deal seems to offer the chance of a negotiated peace between them.

The Drazi appear to have emerged from the recent conflict as one of the strongest races in the League of Non-aligned Worlds and take a leadership or spokesman role in the reconstituted alliance going forwards. This may be related to Ivanova’s leadership role with the Drazi established in episode B3 (which D9 establishes is still ongoing), as well as the Drazi’s clear military strength. The Drazi leadership role appears to have replaced that of the Abbai, who in A7 and A9 had a spokesman role instead.

We discover in this episode some more details about how the Earth-Minbari War erupted. We learn the rest in episodes D9 and TVM1.

We first discovered Garibaldi’s culinary skills and tastes in episode B4.

Marcus discusses how Babylon 5’s crew can be compared to the Arthurian legend. He particularly ponders who Morgana le Fay (or Morgaine) is related to and we can take a guess after the events of episode C21 and C22.

The Asimov previously appeared in episodes A2 and A10.

Background: The first ship to encounter the Minbari was the EAS Prometheus, which we later learn was a Hyperion-class cruiser. According to Straczynski and co-producer Jim Johnston, the EAS Amundsen was another ship in the same group (this name was taken from NOV4 before it was declared non-canonical).

20,000 humans fought in the Battle of the Line, in fighters, on warships and orbital platforms. Only 200 survived the battle.

Marcus spent a year living in Zathras VII before coming to Babylon 5.

David MacIntyre was born in 2208, served in Earthforce, fought at the Battle of the Line and was honourably discharged on 9 February, 2253.

References: The episode, of course, riffs strongly on the legend of King Arthur. According to myth, Arthur rose to prominence as Roman power in Britain collapsed along with the empire in the late 5th and early 6th century AD and, having taken possession of the magic sword Excalibur from the mysterious Lady of the Lake, he founded a kingdom based around a castle known as Camelot. He established a code of chivalry and governance based on protecting the weak and the helpless, championed by the Knights of the Round Table. After some years of peace, Camelot was beset by an invading army led by Mordred (in some versions, Arthur’s bastard son born of an unwitting incestuous union with his half-sister Morgana) and Arthur, suffering personal demons after his wife Guinevere betrayed him by having an affair with his best friend and greatest knight, Lancelot, is defeated. Arthur and his knights embark on a quest for the Holy Grail, the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, and is able to reunite and heal the land with it. He defeats Mordred at the Battle of Camlann but is mortally wounded. He is borne to the island of Avalon to be healed, and will sleep until the time of Britain’s greatest need, when he will return once more.

The Arthur myth was drawn from many different traditions, both English and French, and was assembled by Geoffrey of Monmouth in Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1135). In a possibly early example of a commercial writing decision, Geoffrey decided to include his popular character Merlin Ambrosius (based on the Welsh prophet figure Myrddin) from his earlier Prophetiae Merlini (c. 1130) in the narrative. The canonical version of the legend is generally regarded as a combination of Monmouth and the later Le Morte d’Arthur (1485) by Sir Thomas Malory. The modern definitive version of the story is generally regarded as The Once and Future King (1958) by T.H. White, adapted by Disney as The Sword in the Stone (1963). Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles trilogy (1995-97) is the definitive modern, “realistic” retelling of the legend.

Marcus engages in some creative fan theorising about the story in this episode, casting Arthur as Sheridan, the Lady of the Lake as Delenn, Percival (or Bedevere) as Franklin, Gawain as Ivanova (or G’Kar), Merlin as Kosh, Galahad as Marcus and Mordred as Morden.

The EAS Prometheus is a named after the Greek hero who stole fire from the gods, an ultimate study in hubris. This, of course, reflects the hubris and arrogance of the Earth Alliance when it met the Minbari, which it paid for.

Marcus quotes from Charles Dickens and Aleksandr Pushkin. Franklin recognises the latter; he may have read up on him at Ivanova’s recommendation.

“Banta flu” is not a reference to the banthas of Star Wars.

Unanswered Questions: What happened to David MacIntyre after he joined the Narn rebels?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: It’s hard to tell, even with the upscaling available on Blu-Ray players, but the on-screen date given for the death of Dukhat and the start of the Minbari War seems to be “4 February, 2238.” This date makes no sense, since the fifteenth anniversary places the date clearly in 2245 and the month in July. It’s possible the wrong date comes from Straczynski’s original and long-outdated bible (which suggested that Minbari War lasted ten years, starting circa 2238), but it’s unclear why this would have been referenced in this episode.

In this episode, Franklin says that two Minbari ships were destroyed in the Prometheus encounter. TVM1 and D9 clearly establish that no Minbari ships were destroyed, unless they’re counting fighters.

As noted in Andy Lane’s The Babylon File, Garibaldi commits attempted armed robbery, blackmail and intimidation during this episode to get what he wants, which feels a little out of character and a bit disturbing, although some of the lines are amusing.

Leeches were not native to 6th Century England and the “real” King Arthur would not have known about them.

According to Straczynski at the time this episode aired, the Battle of the Line took place in 2247, which matches all of the other dates in the show to date perfectly. However, later canon established the date as 2248, in defiance of the chronology established earlier on.

Behind the Scenes: This episode was written partially as a riposte to a theory that gained traction during the second season that Babylon 5 was closely based on The Lord of the Rings, or as Straczynski said, “It’s not Lord of the Rings with the serial numbers filed off!” Straczynski riffed off the idea of using Arthurian archetypes instead.

Originally this episode was filmed before C12, Sic Transit Vir, but the studio flipped them so this episode would air in a sweeps period, when more people were expected to tune in due to the guest-starring role of Michael York.

Jason Carter and Richard Biggs were both a little star-struck by Michael York, and enjoyed watching him work and learning the processes he employed to get into character.

Andreas Katsulas was not a keen drinker and had to draw on the last memories of getting drunk (some twenty years earlier) to play the scene where G’Kar passes out.

Straczynski was careful in episode C7 to call MacBeth “the Scottish Play” in accordance with British stage tradition. Ironically, on this episode one of the hairdressers said MacBeth out loud in front of Michael York, who made her go through a silly “undoing the curse” routine by walking around the soundstage three times.

Billy Mumy and Walter Koenig have a scene together on the White Star, which Mumy noted as being the first time a Star Trek regular and a Lost in Space regular had a scene together.

Familiar Faces: Michael York (Arthur/David) is a British actor who hit the big time in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s thanks to his role on films including Romeo and Juliet, Cabaret, The Three Musketeers, Murder on the Orient Express, Logan’s Run and the epic mini-series Jesus of Nazareth. By the mid-1990s he was a big enough name that getting him on Babylon 5 was considered quite a coup.

Michael Kagan (Emmett Farquaha) has an enormous resume. He is best-known for playing talk show host Colin Lassiter on Hannah Montana. His other credits include Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Seinfeld, Diagnosis Murder, Desperate Housewives, Days of Our Lives and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Review: Straczynski’s questionable interest in British mythic archetypes (see Jack the Ripper and the Holy Grail) continues, but this filler episode rises above its limitations thanks to Michael York’s splendid performance and the gentle mickey-taking of fans who felt that Straczynski was ripping off other stories. ***½

Marcus: “The Minbari say the only way to understand the battle is to understand the language. War is as much concept as execution.”

G’Kar: “By G’Quan, I can’t recall the last time I was in a fight like that. No moral ambiguity! No helpless battle against ancient and overwhelming forces. They were the bad guys, as you say, we were the good guys, and they made a very satisfying thump when they hit the floor!”

Garibaldi: “What are you so nervous about? We went up against the entire Earth Alliance and two carrier groups.”
Security Guard: “Yeah, but this is the Post Office, this could get us in real trouble!”

C14: Ship of Tears
Airdates: 29 April 1996 (US), 21 July 1996 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Michael Laurence Vejar
Cast: Alfred Bester (Walter Koenig), Carolyn Sanderson (Joan McMurtrey), ISN Reporter Alison Higgins (Diana Morgan), MedTech (Debra Sharkey)

Date: 24 July 2260.

Plot:    ISN comes back on line, but hopes that free speech has been restored to the Earth Alliance are ruined when the unfamiliar new journalists starts spouting propaganda designed to strengthen President Clark’s position. Meanwhile, G’Kar demands to know from Ivanova why he hasn’t been allowed entry into the War Council despite Sheridan’s promise a few months ago. Delenn volunteers to tell G’Kar about the Shadows and that she knew about them long before they allied with the Centauri to permit the bombing of the Narn homeworld. G’Kar is initially furious about this, but understands that if she and Kosh had warned him, he would either have not believed them or been unable to change anything.

Sheridan test-flies one of the new Thunderbolt fighter-bombers B5 has inherited from the EAS Churchill, but during the flight picks up something odd: a Black Omega Starfury, a fighter from the elite wing attached to Psi Corps. The pilot turns out to be Bester. He is brought aboard under heavy guard and informs the rest of the command staff that something odd is happening back on Earth, something he suspects they know about. An unknown race of aliens is operating on Earth, whispering things in President Clark’s ear. Through Clark they have infiltrated the Psi Corps and are arranging a cargo shipment for weapons through hyperspace. Bester wants to know what the hell is going on and has come to Sheridan for help, despite the tension of their previous relationship. Bester has heard only one name for these aliens: ‘Shadows’. Sheridan thinks that it might be a trap, but on the other hand anything to do with the Shadows is his area of interest.

The White Star intercepts the Psi Corps cargo ship and destroys the Shadow fighters escorting it. The cargo ship is taken captive, but then a full-sized Shadow warship turns up. Bizarrely, it doesn’t move to attack and just flies off again. Back on the station the cargo ship is revealed to be full of telepaths in cryo-stasis. Bester discovers that the telepaths are ‘blips’, telepaths who refuse to join Psi Corps or take the sleepers. Many turn rogue, whilst others are confined to quarters under Psi Corps observation. He ponders what over a hundred of them were doing on a ship bound for the Galactic Rim but then spots a name he recognises. Franklin opens one of the cryo-pods but the occupant goes insane and takes control of Medlab, ‘bonding’ with the equipment around her. Bester and Garibaldi arrive and Bester identifies the woman as Carolyn, his lover. Franklin is able to knock out Carolyn whilst Bester distracts her. Bester scans her mind and sees images of a Shadow warship.

Piecing together what they know, Sheridan comes to the conclusion that the telepaths were to be bonded to Shadow vessels, although as far as they know it isn’t a requirement that the pilots be telepathic. Bester is enraged that the only woman in his life to mean a damn to him is being abused in this way and vows to get even with the Shadows and his alleged allies in the Psi Corps who allowed this to happen. He promises his full support to Sheridan before heading back to Earth. Ivanova refuses to trust him, despite what has happened.

All of this reminds Garibaldi of something and he summons a meeting of the War Council in their newly-finished strategic centre, the War Room, including the newly-admitted G’Kar. According to The Book of G’Quan the Narns used to possess telepaths but they died out a thousand years ago. However, the book has a detailed description of why they died out. Apparently G’Quan drove the Shadows from the Narn homeworld during the Great War with the help of the ‘mindwalkers’, but the Shadows destroyed the mindwalkers in retribution as they fled. The Shadows are obviously vulnerable in some manner to telepathic interference and that might be why they didn’t attack the White Star, because Bester was on board. It’s also why they are using telepaths in their ships, because they’d have mental defences against telepathic attack. Sheridan declares they may have found a critical weakness, but then a report arrives: the Shadows have just launched a massive assault on Brakiri space...

Dating the Episode: It is ten days before the events of episode C15.

The Arc: Black Omega Starfuries previously turned up in episode A6. We learn more about Black Omega in episode E13.

How did Bester get into Babylon 5 space without using the jump gate in a non-jump-capable fighter? Presumably another ship dropped him off. We find out in E13 what that ship was.

ISN was shut down in episode C10 and is now back as a propaganda machine for the Clark government. We discover more about the new ISN in episode D8.

The new Thunderbolt fighters first appeared in C10. We see them again in action in episodes D6 and D15.

This episode confirms that the Psi Corps have ties to the Shadows, who also have influence over President Clark. This was hinted at in episodes C1 and C5 and comics DC5-DC8.

The frozen telepaths are mentioned again in episodes C22 and D7. They become important in episode D20.

We discovered that living beings are used to bond with the Shadow vessels in C8. We learn more about this in episode C22.

Because Shadow ships use living beings as the central processing cores of their ships, they are vulnerable to telepathic interference. Telepaths can jam them, and the very presence of a powerful telepath will often see a Shadow ship withdraw rather than risk destruction. The Shadows, or their allies, have been experimenting with using telepathic pilots to resist this interference, but it’s unclear how successful this has been. The overwhelming majority of Shadow ships are piloted by non-telepathic beings and are thus vulnerable to telepathic attack.

The lack of Narn telepaths means that the Shadows were able to attack them with near-wild abandon in Season 2 without any fear of opposition.

We finally find out why the Narns don’t have any telepaths: the Shadows killed them all during the last Great War after they were driven from the Narn homeworld. We discovered that the Narns didn’t have any telepaths in episode PM and that they were keen to blend alien telepaths’ DNA into their own genetic make-up to create new ones. We discovered that the Shadows had a presence on the Narn homeworld a millennium ago in C1. We discovered that Narn telepaths used to exist but were rendered extinct in C6. Sheridan follows up on this discovery in episodes C18-C21. A weapon similar to the one which destroyed the Narn telepaths appears in book NOV7.

The Shadows begin attacking Brakiri space at the end of the episode. This is the first time they have moved openly, without bothering to cover their tracks. It may have been sparked by the realisation that their enemies might now know about their weakness to telepaths. Episodes C15-C18 and C20-D6 follow up on this outbreak of open hostilities.

The aliens experimenting on Carolyn in her flashbacks are allies of the Shadows. NOV16-NOV18 indicate that they may be called the Wurt.

Background: Bester’s marriage was arranged by the Psi Corps for genetic purposes. He does not love his wife.

Hyperspace boosts the range of telepathic abilities. Psi Corps has kept that information secret so that they are not co-opted into the military.

This is the first episode where we see a Brakiri warship.

The Narn telepaths were known as “mindwalkers”. They were killed during the last Great War and the telepathic ability was burned out of the Narn species (although the gene still exists and can be reactivated with drugs like dust).

There are multiple news networks on Earth, but ISN is the only one successful enough to afford airtime on the expensive tachyon communications network and be beamed off Earth to other colonies.

References: This is the episode which confirms that Bester’s first name is Alfred, a reference to science fiction author Alfred Bester (1913-87), best-known for his novels Tiger! Tiger! (better known as The Stars My Destination) (1956) and The Demolished Man (1953), the latter of which inspired Psi Corps.

Bester quotes from The Cask of Amontillado (1846) by Edgar Allan Poe.

“Carolyn Sanderson” has the same initials as “Carolyn Sykes” (from the pilot) and “Catherine Sakai” (from Season 1).

Unanswered Questions: How does Bester know that the B5 crew know about the Shadows?

Psi Corps may be keeping the psi-boosting powers of hyperspace secret, but what about the other races? Presumably the Centauri and Minbari also know about this.

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: It’s now more than six months since Team Sheridan took control of the White Star. Why haven’t the crew started picking up English?

Out of the dozens of telepaths on the alien ship, it’s a bit of a coincidence that the first one to be thawed out is Bester’s lover.

Behind the Scenes: This episode debuts the new War Room set, an elaborate strategic planning centre for the crew’s operations. The budget for building the set was found by not upgrading the C&C set as had been originally planned. The space was found by dismantling the Casino set.

This was Walter Koenig’s favourite episode of Babylon 5 because it upended audience expectations about Bester and rewrote everyone’s understanding of the character.

The scene where Delenn confesses the secret of the Shadows to G’Kar was emotional, and several takes were needed to get the actors into a place which had real emotion but wasn’t too overwrought. Mira Furlan noted this was one of her favourite scenes with Andreas as they achieved an emotional connection between two characters who hadn’t had that much contact previously.

Jerry Doyle had to re-dub Garibaldi’s lines in the War Room at the end of the episode because of extraneous noise (possibly an overflying aircraft, which was a constant problem due to the studio’s location on a flightpath) and because he had wandered away from the microphone.

Straczynski had worked out the story of “the last crusade of G’Quan” against the Shadows in some detail, but never released it.

By this episode Straczynski had become very confidence and comfortable with Mike Vejar’s directing, and had given him greater latitude in being more experimental and trying different things.

Familiar Faces: Joan McMurtrey (Carolyn Sanderson) started her career in 1985, starring in an episode of Scarecrow and Mrs. King alongside Bruce Boxleitner. Her other TV credits include Moonlighting, Family Ties, Alien Nation, Jake and the Fatman, Murder, She Wrote and Frasier. She was a regular on The Bold and the Beautiful in 2004.

Diana Morgan (ISN Reporter Alison Higgins) is genuinely a former news reporter, having reported for WAVY-TV in Hampton Roads, Virginia. She moved to Hollywood to become an actress, and found herself frequently cast in as a news anchor, appearing in that role in films such as Eraser. Her most significant role was the newscaster providing the voiceover at the start of the James Cameron movie Titanic. Her highest-profile role was a seven-year stint on The Bold and the Beautiful.

Review: A pretty solid episode, with some very nice, atmospheric direction from Mike Vejar and a fantastic performance by a never-better Walter Koenig (which makes you realise how badly he was wasted on Star Trek). There’s some nice comedy moments and an unexpected segue into body horror which works really well. Backing it up is a stand-out two-hander scene between Mira Furlan and Andreas Katsulas. The episode is let down by some dubious narrative contrivances and the heavy-handedness of the ISN propaganda story. But it’s still a great episode which sets up the closing part of the season. ****

Franklin: “He who controls information, controls the world.”

Bester: “Whoever these aliens are, they’re interfering with my plans for the future. I won’t have it.”

Bester: “Your war is now my war.”

G’Kar: “Do not thump the Book of G’Quan, it is disrespectful.”

Ivanova: “The Shadows have just started attacking Brakiri space, openly. They’re not hiding anymore. They’re finally on the move.”

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